South Africa's Paralympian sprint star Oscar Pistorius will go trial in March charged with murdering his girlfriend on Valentine's Day and for illegal possession of ammunition, a magistrate ruled at a packed court hearing on Monday.
The 26-year-old double amputee, who looked subdued as he arrived in court in the capital Pretoria, faces a life sentence if found guilty.
Pistorius was back in the dock six months after shooting dead Reeva Steenkamp in the bathroom of his upmarket Pretoria home in the early hours of February 14.
Pistorius is also facing further legal challenge from Steenkamp’s parents, who are suing him for compensation. They claim that their daughter’s death deprived them of financial support they relied upon in their old age.
The platinum blonde cover girl and law graduate died on Valentine’s Day with gunshot wounds to the head, elbow and hip. She would have turned 30 on Monday.
Pistorius allegedly fired a gun through the sunroof of an ex-girlfriend’s car, and earlier this year reportedly discharged a gun by accident at a Johannesburg restaurant.
Pistorius, who is out on bail and faces a life sentence if found guilty, has denied murder, saying he shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door because he believed she was an intruder.
He broke down several times in court during his February bail hearing and family members have spoken openly about his trauma.
The indictment could detail key aspects of the police investigation into Steenkamp’s death that came under scrutiny during the lengthy bail hearing.
Ballistics reports from the bathroom door suggest Pistorius was on his stumps when the shooting took place, South Africa’s Sunday Times reported.
The athlete was born without calf bones and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old.
Prosecutors earlier asserted he donned his two prosthetic legs before firing four shots through the door, a delay they thought would prove the murder was planned.
The indictment could also shed light on phone records from four cell phones found outside the toilet cubicle where Steenkamp had locked herself in.
Paralympic champion Pistorius, who runs on two fibre-glass prosthetic legs, catapulted to fame at last year’s London Olympics as the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes.
But the killing sent shock waves around the world and since then his reckless past and love of fast cars, beautiful women and guns has emerged in media reports.
The murder case halted his participation in athletic events and ended lucrative endorsement deals with US sportswear giant Nike and French cosmetic firm Clarins.
Now South Africa’s much-maligned police force is under immense pressure to help secure a conviction, after the bail hearing showed up shoddy police work that led to the whole investigation team being replaced.
Police failed to find all the bullets fired, potentially contaminated the crime scene and misjudged the distance to the house from which a witness claimed to have heard shouting earlier in the night.
Pistorius was released on bail of one million rand ($99,000, 74,000 euros) a week after killing Steenkamp.
Her parents, initially silent, later lashed out at him, speaking of quarrels their daughter had with the athlete in their five-month relationship. The Steeenkamps are poor pensioners from Port Elizabeth who depended on their daughter’s earnings to help them out. She bought their food and paid their utility bills. “We have no choice but to sue,” said June Steenkamp. “Pistorius has placed us in this poisition. We are struggling financially,”
In the months following his release the sprinter has kept a low profile.
After withdrawing from international athletic events, Pistorius restarted light training for “mental and emotional equilibrium”, his family said in June.
He has been spotted in public a few times, most recently while kayaking last week in harbour town Hermanus east of Cape Town.